A few years ago I went to Mexico, to a natural hot spring retreat in the mountains where I had been before. My health was not strong, but this is a place where people often go to recuperate from surgery, cancer and other illnesses, so the proprietors are diligent about water quality and food preparation.
On my return trip, riding the bus from the airport terminal to the plane I started to feel a little dizzy. By the time the plane took off I was having chills, sweats, abdominal pain and vertigo. For those of you who have never picked up a nasty bacteria, (E.Coli, C.Difficile, Salmonella etc.) it’s like the flu times one thousand. Based on previous experience I knew that if I went to the airplane restroom I was going to spend the whole trip there, and risk passing out in a less than optimal position. So, I decided to stay put and try to get through it.
It got worse. A lot worse. The woman next to me appeared to be with a group of Asian travellers who had boarded together and occasionally called out to each other in a language I didn’t recognize. She appeared to be in her sixties, with a short sturdy body, dark hair and a broad face. At one point, as a chill shook me like a leaf in the wind, she got up, opened the overhead bin and gestured to me, offering her winter coat. I shook my head no. I was nauseous, and didn’t want to worry about someone else’s coat if things got. . . .well, more out of my control.
Some time later, my hands started to go numb. Alarmed, I hit the call button. The steward, looking annoyed, asked if there was a doctor on board and a young Danish physician took my pulse. He decided I wasn’t having a stroke, and we did not need to put the plane down prematurely. I apologized to the stewards. They asked me to fill out a form protecting the airline from liability. Marginally convinced that I was not dying, I held on, alternating between hot flashes and violent chills.
Leaning my head against the window I gave up trying to stop the shaking. And then I felt something warm. I looked up to see the small woman from the seat next to me, wrapping her soft, red, wool coat around me. I tried to protest but in the universal language of comfort she just said, “Shhhh, shhhh. . . .” as she tucked the coat around me, and gently but firmly stroked my arms.
And in that moment, I was undone. Indifference or hostility would have been easier to take. I could be stoic even though I was in pain and alone. But this kindness from a stranger, this giving of comfort, contact and her own garment, made my throat constrict and my eyes fill with tears. She sat back down next to me and patted my knee, looking concerned.
I keep thinking about how much this woman’s kindness touched me. It offered me an insight into why it is sometimes so hard to receive. If we are hanging on by our finger nails, steeling ourselves against our own or the world’s suffering, kindness can feel dangerous. It opens our hearts to our own or another’s pain. This woman’s compassion showed me how infrequently I expect or even see the assistance that may be offered to me when somewhere deep inside I am caught in the belief that I must be “strong” to get through. It reminded me that compassion does not necessitate heroic acts or grand gestures, but a willingness to be with another and offer what we can. And it strengthened my conviction that small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect of blessings we cannot even imagine.
Oriah (c) 2012 www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com
About Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. www.oriah.org www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer?sk=wall